Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would not seek re-election in his home state of Wisconsin and instead spend the foreseeable future watching his kids grow up. While Ryan’s retirement announcement came as little surprise to those closely watching the Speaker’s career over the last couple of years, it did rankle some in the House who feel he should have chosen one of two paths: Either stay on for a little while longer or immediately step aside and let someone else take over as Speaker of the House. It was on this second option that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney appeared to fall when he spoke at a Colorado conference on Sunday.
At the conference, Mulvaney was asked if Ryan should step aside early and allow Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to go ahead and assume the speakership ahead of the midterm elections.
“I’ve talked with Kevin about this privately but not as much publicly,” Mulvaney said. “Wouldn’t it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election? That’s a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it.”
The idea, apparently, is to put McCarthy and the House speakership in the headlines, thus making the future of that position a hot topic when voters go to the polls in November. That’s not a terrible strategy, either; polls show that Pelosi is the least-adored Democrat in the country, even exceeding Hillary Clinton’s abysmal favorability numbers. If Republicans in any race can turn their contest into a referendum on Nancy Pelosi, they might as well start decorating their Washington offices now. This job gets even easier if Ryan (not exactly Mr. Popular himself) steps out from behind the podium early.
A vote on the speaker would also compel Democrats in tight races to vote for Pelosi, putting them on the record once again for being in the San Francisco Democrat’s corner. This would prove prickly for some of them as they try to distance themselves from her in their campaigns. Pelosi herself has sponsored this effort, telling the press that she wants Democrats to do whatever they have to do to win. It’s unclear, though, if that would include going on the record with a vote for McCarthy or some other Democrats as House speaker.
Both Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy have denied any interest in this plan, however. Ryan said at a press conference last month that he plans to “stay here and run through the tape,” and McCarthy has said he has no interest in taking the speakership early.
Mulvaney’s remarks, though, could be a sly indication of where Trump lands on this prospect; if the president gets involved, the situation could change in a hurry.